Like the dope its protagonists huff from a hookah, the brilliance of Humpday is a creeper. At first glance its premise suggests it should be filed alongside bromances like I Now Pronounce You Chuck & Larry and I Love You, Man, but the film's talkative emotional authenticity and natural humor let the audience know they're not in Kansas anymore long before the crux of the plot takes hold.
We are barely introduced to young married couple Ben (Mark Duplass) and Anna (Alycia Delmore) before Andrew (Joshua Leonard), Ben's old college pal, shows up on their doorstep. While Ben has settled down, Andrew is living the bohemian dream, traveling the globe, dabbling in women and art to equally fruitless effect. Ben, clearly self-conscious of the path he's chosen, follows Andrew to a party, where the conversation turns to Hump!, an amateur porn festival that not only really exists, but is held by the Mercury's sister paper, The Stranger, and if you click here, you can find out how to submit to it. I'm even helping to jury it this year—wow, this is getting awkward (which is entirely appropriate).
Anyway: Ben and Andrew decide to make a Hump! submission of themselves having sex, straight man-on-straight man. "It's not gay," they say. "It's beyond gay. It's art." Thus the stage is set for probably the greatest example yet of what is known as "mumblecore" [Also see "I'm Staying Home!"]. While those associated with the genre famously cringe from it, Humpday definitely has the lineage. (Duplass has acted in, written, produced, and/or directed a slew of notable mumblecore films; director Lynn Shelton acted in original "mumblecorps" members Greta Gerwig and Joe Swanberg's Nights and Weekends; and even Leonard is best known for The Blair Witch Project, which has been pointed to as an outlier cousin of mumblecore movies.) And the film also contains the essential defining, if not un-borrowed, style traits: It's talky, relationship driven, and improvised.
Humpday is more focused and charming than most mumblecore films, taking the best qualities and leaving behind the characteristic sloppiness and over-privileged naiveté. The result is a breakthrough, and as we're led into the inner circle of the characters' earnest attempts to be communicative, positive, and open minded, it slowly dawns on you how mistreated we are by the studios' infliction of endless lashes of gender stereotype and homophobia, where 90-minute jokes are based on the supposed male aversion to talking about their feelings. Contrast that with Humpday, where Ben and Andrew talking about their feelings—in a directly homoerotic context, no less—is the entire point. The fact that it's done in a way that is not only sincerely inquisitive but also sweetly hilarious is a long overdue respite. Viva la independents.